From left to right: Olivia Guillory (daughter), Lena Pitre, honoree and Councilman Nat Bates, City of Richmond.
By Felecia Gaston,
Lena Pitre, raised in Soileau, Louisiana celebrated her 83rd birthday with over 150 family and friends on Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Pinole Senior Center in Pinole.
The celebration was hosted by her immediate family members, with some coming from Louisiana to participate in festivities.
Pitre was presented with a proclamation signed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the Richmond City Council which honored her for her many contributions to the Zydeco creole culture and declared Dec. 4 to be Lena Pitre Day in Richmond.
According to the proclamation, Pitre and her late husband Houston moved to Richmond, bringing with them their language, food, and music. “ They were all part of the creole migration from the Gulf Coast during the second wave of migrants in the 1960s,” the proclamation said.
The young couple held jam sessions in their backyard, eventually holding Zydeco dances at St. Marks Catholic Church in Richmond, inviting national artists such as Clifton Chenier, Queen Ida and John Delafose to come to California to perform.
Zydeco is an important part of the musical landscape of American music, a blend of French, Creole, West Africa, Cajun, Caribbean and Rhythm & Blues, according to the proclamation.
“Lena Pitre, universally known as ‘Mama Lena,’ is considered the matriarch of Northern California’s creole community, and she is an integral component of the history of Richmond during the major developments in the 1960s and the rise of Black urban industrial development,” the proclamation said.
“The City of Richmond is proud to recognize Lena Pitre’s contributions that places arts and cultural expression at the center of Richmond’s social, intellectual, economic and creative way of life.”
The celebration started off and ended with music of Andre Thierry, grandson of Lena Pitre, and Zydeco Magic. Lena Pitre still Zydeco, danced and celebrated with the guests.